Stargazing

You can’t find a better time to fall in love with the sky.  Late summer/fall camping means it’s dark early, you don’t have to rush off to a meeting or ball game (because you are camping), and there are no distracting mosquitoes.  It also puts you off in the boonies somewhere, away from the sky-dimming effects of yard or street lights. 

 

 A basic star map handbook is a great start.  It’s also nice to find out where the planets are in the sky at that time.  Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are quite bright, with Jupiter and Saturn being respectively the third and fourth brightest objects in the sky, following the sun and moon.  Mercury is fairly dim and hard to locate.  Jupiter is very prominent right now, coming up in the east at about sunset, and staying with us for the duration of the night.  And don’t forget to check out the moon with your binoculars.  Unbelievable!    

 

The more you learn, the more amazing it is.  The distance to stars is fascinating.  At 186,000 miles per second, it takes light 4 1/2 years to get here from the closest star (thus the term “light-years” as a measure of distance, not time).  The Andromeda Spiral, the nearest of millions of galaxies outside of our own Milky Way, is faintly visible with the naked eye.  It is 2.2 million light years away.  What that really means is that you are looking only at history -- where and what it was 2.2 million years ago.  That is the interesting part.  Many of the stars we see today may no longer exist.  A nova (exploding star) observed in the 1970’s was determined to have exploded around the time Columbus sailed the seas.  For hundreds of years people were looking at a star that was no longer there!  The more you learn about the heavens, the more you know you don’t know!  Now, that could make for some good campfire conversation!